Is there a simple way to make the plot of your story irresistible, so that your readers keep turning pages, desperate to find out what happens next?
Yes. Every irresistible plot contains seven key elements that help catch the reader’s attention and hold it to the very last page.
These keys are so universal that you’ve seen them hundreds of times before, even if you didn’t recognize them. In fact, you’ll actually find these plot keys hidden in the spelling of the word FICTION.
F is for Flaw
In a well-crafted story, something is already wrong even before page one. It could be a dysfunctional relationship, an unhealthy situation, or an unresolved trauma haunting the viewpoint character. Or all three at the same time.
Creating a character who is perfectly fine at the start of the story robs you of opportunities to put your character in deeper and more complex trouble over the coming pages.
But starting the story with a character already suffering a certain amount of misery gives them more room to grow — and helps make your story irresistible.
I is for Inciting Incident
At some point in the past, your main character was probably coping with her flaws, more or less.
But once your story begins, something must happen that radically upsets that tenuous balance in the character’s life, causing those flaws to crash down all around her and create serious trouble.
Whatever that inciting incident is, it must be a specific event, something that’s never happened to your character before.
If you’re feeling stumped, here are some ideas to get you started:
- A character finds something startling: a dead body, a mysterious letter, a captivating photo.
- Someone dies.
- A relationship begins or ends.
- A stranger comes to town.
A good inciting incident thrusts the character into a new and unexpected situation, one that raises immediate questions for the viewpoint character (and the reader).
C is for Choice
After the inciting incident, your viewpoint character is in deep trouble, and she needs to do something to set things right again.
But here’s the key: not only must the character decide to act, but she needs to make that choice on her own — no one can order her to do it.
The motivation needs to come from within, from the character’s need for something: love, revenge, respect, independence, safety — any universal human need.
Because of that need, the character makes a deliberate decision to take action and try to solve the problem. And that key choice drives your story forward.
T is for Twist
Somewhere around the middle of your story, you need an unexpected turn of events to spin the plot in a whole new direction.
Without that twist, your story is predictable, dull, mediocre. You don’t want that. You want to write an irresistible story.
So you need a twist: the reader thought the story was headed in one direction, when suddenly it’s headed in another. The challenge is to pull this off without making it seem clunky and contrived.
That’s another reason to set up your character’s flaws in the very beginning. If you can tie the twist to an established flaw, its sudden appearance will make total sense.
Your character will feel sucker-punched, and your readers won’t be able to stop turning pages to find out what happens next.
I is for In Vain
At some point, your character needs to hit a wall.
We’re not talking about a disappointing setback, or a failure that just requires a change of plans. We’re talking about a total, catastrophic, devastating loss.
Utter defeat. (Or so it seems.)
Someone dies. A heartfelt relationship is broken. Something precious is destroyed.
One way or another, the character’s life is irrevocably changed. And the more heart-wrenching this moment is, the better it is for your story.
Even worse? From all appearances, it looks like your character will fail at whatever goal they’re trying to achieve. All is lost.
In other words, it’s all been in vain.
This is the darkest moment of the story, and you need to do everything possible to convince the reader that there’s no way your character can go on after this loss.
Eventually, of course, they must press onward. But for a little while, it must look like your character is finished.
Without this “in vain” moment, the final confrontation doesn’t feel earned. So hit this moment as hard as you can. In the end, it will be worth it.
O is for Overcome
You know what this moment is. The climax. The final confrontation. The do-or-die moment. It’s the easiest part of the story to spot.
It’s also the easiest part to mess up.
There are two main ways you can ruin this moment:
One, you can let someone else steal the thunder. Too many stories fall flat because the main character isn’t the one who takes the pivotal action. It needs to be your main character, and no one else, who solves the story problem.
Two, you can forget to set up a finish line. See, in order for the reader to root for your main character, there needs to be a specific, visible moment in her mind’s eye where she can see the character succeed.
The family reunites. The dragon is slain. The lovers declare their devotion. The runner crosses the finish line.
Without that specific, visible moment where the character overcomes the final obstacle, there’s no exact moment for your reader to start cheering.
If you want your story to be irresistible, you need to tell the reader when to cheer. Set it up ahead of time. Make it clear where the finish line is, and your readers will eagerly turn pages to get there.
N is for New
At the very end of your story, your character winds up in a new place — physically, emotionally, relationally. The main problems have been resolved. Lessons have been learned. Nothing will be the same again.
What does this new place look like? If the opening of the story is the “before” picture, this is the “after” picture. Show it.
Create a specific image that shows your readers how the character’s life has changed, for better or worse. And if you can, hint at the future. That makes for a story that lives on in the reader’s mind long after they reach THE END.
Use These Seven Keys in Your Story
Remember, nearly every irresistible plot contains these seven key elements:
F = Flaw
I = Inciting Incident
C = Choice
T = Twist
I = In Vain
O = Overcome
N = New
Watch for them in every story you read, and you’ll start to see how other authors have applied them in new and interesting ways. Then apply them to your next story to make it irresistible.